Welfare in Canada, 2017

Components of welfare incomes

Households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for other financial support including:

  • GST/HST credit
  • Provincial/territorial tax credits or benefits
  • Federal and provincial/territorial child benefits (for households with children)
  • Recurring additional social assistance payments (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance)

Together, these combine with basic social assistance payments to form the total welfare income of a household. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, while some households may receive more if they have special health- or disability-related needs.

The table below shows the value and components of welfare incomes for four household types living in Vancouver in 2017.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Basic social assistance$7,620$12,551$11,647$13,513
Additional SA benefits$35$35$80$365
Federal child benefits  $6,400$10,800
Provincial child benefits  $660 
GST credit$278$319$702$848
Provincial tax credits/benefits$191$191$306$450
Total 2017 income$8,124$13,096$19,795$25,976

Download the data in a table

In British Columbia, all of the example household types received Income Assistance (IA) benefits except for the single person with a disability, who received Disability Assistance benefits. In April 2017, the monthly rate for Disability Assistance increased by $50, and in October 2017, monthly rates for both Income Assistance and Disability Assistance increased by $100 per month.

On top of the basic social assistance amounts, all households received an annual Christmas Supplement and the couple with two children received an annual School Start-Up Supplement of $100 for the 10-year-old and $175 for the 15-year-old.

In BC, provincial tax credits/benefits included the BC Sales Tax Credit and the BC Low Income Climate Action Tax Credit. The BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which provided a monthly tax-free benefit of up to $55 for each child under 6 years was also delivered through the tax system, but is shown in the table as a provincial child benefit.

Total welfare incomes in BC ranged from $8,124 for a single person considered employable to $25,976 for a couple with two children.

Changes to welfare incomes

There were several significant changes that affected welfare incomes in British Columbia in 2017. In April 2017, Disability Assistance rates increased by $50 a month, and, in October 2017, there was a further increase of $100 a month to Disability Assistance and Income Assistance rates. In addition, 2017 was the first full year that the Canada Child Benefit was paid, increasing the welfare incomes of households with children.

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four illustrative household types have changed over time. The values are in constant 2017 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation.

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  • The welfare incomes of both a single person considered employable and a single person with a disability have followed a similar pattern. Between the mid-1990s and 2016, rates followed a general downward trend, broken only by a brief increase in the mid-2000s.
  • In 2017, a single person considered employable received a maximum of $8,124. Meanwhile a single person with a disability saw a significant increase in income (due to two increases to Disability Assistance rates), and their total income reached $13,096. However, the welfare incomes for both of these groups remained lower than in the early 1990s.

Download the data in a table

  • Households with children showed a similar pattern in welfare incomes as single adults, with a notable drop starting in 1995 that continued to the mid-2000s.
  • Despite small increases in the mid-2000s, welfare incomes fell again until 2015 when they started to rise, largely as a result of increases to federal child benefits.
  • In 2017, a single parent with one child received $19,795, and a couple with two children received $25,976.

Adequacy of welfare incomes

The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of low income. In Canada there are three commonly used measures:

  1. The Market Based Measure of poverty (MBM), which the National Poverty Strategy set as the official poverty measure, identifies households whose disposable income is less than the cost of a basket of goods and services that represent a basic standard of living.
  2. The Low Income Measure of poverty (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
  3. The Low Income Cut-Off measure (LICO) identifies households that are likely to spend a disproportionately large share of their income on the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.

The table below shows how welfare incomes in British Columbia for the four household types compared to the three low income thresholds (after tax). The LICO and MBM thresholds are for Vancouver, the largest city in British Columbia.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$8,124$13,096$19,795$25,976
MBM threshold (Vancouver)$20,456$20,456$28,930$40,913
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$12,333-$7,360-$9,135-$14,937
Welfare income as % of MBM40%64%68%63%
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$23,020$23,020$32,555$46,039
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$14,896-$9,924-$12,760-$20,063
Welfare income as % of LIM35%57%61%56%
LICO threshold (Vancouver)$20,998$20,998$25,555$39,701
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$12,875-$7,902-$5,760-$13,725
Welfare income as % of LICO39%62%77%65%

Download the data in a table

For each household type, the maximum welfare income fell well below all of the low income measures. As a proportion the biggest gap was for single adults considered employable — their welfare income was between 35 and 40 per cent of the low income thresholds. The smallest gap was for the single parent with one child, ranging between 61 and 77 per cent of the low income thresholds.

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